When I walk into the Miramar warehouse home of Seven Cave Spirits, I find owner and distiller Geoff Longenecker celebrating a Eureka moment. After much experimenting, he’d just figured out a new method he will use to infuse pineapple into a summer gin he’s making special for the cocktail artists at Little Italy restaurant Kettner Exchange.
It’s not an unusual moment for the craft distiller, who first began making liquor here two years ago, and approaches every distillation as an opportunity to explore different ingredients, methods, and possible outcomes. “I don’t make products in here,” Longenecker states, meaning flagship products. “I make batches.”
In this batch of gin, he’s distilling a sugar wash that most distillers would use as a base to make rum. “I start with a faint idea of what rum is,” he explains, “then strip that down, and add juniper, and in this case tropical ingredients, and build a gin out of it.”
On another day, with another fruit to consider, he might produce a totally different batch. Lining the walls are dozens of oak barrels, each filled with a unique liquid. There are rye whiskeys, bourbons, wheated bourbons, agave spirits, and a trio of barrels aging the same rum distillate, but in different proof levels, if only to see how potency affects the end product.
When the longtime attorney and homebrewer launched Seven Caves, he did so with a pantry of ingredients, different grains, sugars, and yeasts he might use to construct a unique base alcohol for each new batch.
Usually, he finds inspiration in the ingredients themselves. As we speak, he pulls two jars of sugar off a shelf. Both were processes the same way, at the same Louisiana source, but they’re not identical. “They come in different times of the year, and they’re different,” he tells me.
Sure enough, thanks to the relative unpredictability of agricultural products, one smells of dark fruit, while the other has more a floral character. Longenecker complemented each sugar with a different strain of yeast, yielding entirely different rums in the process. Rather than try to force the same results, he tries to play to each ingredient’s strengths.
“It’s no different than getting strawberries early in the season, versus the end of the season,” he notes, “Why should I demand uniformity in something that changes?”
Longenecker’s a bourbon man at heart, and has amassed a 300 bottle whiskey collection at home. Soon enough, he’ll issue his first bottles of grain liquor, as well as agave spirits. Thus far, his limited bottle releases have included a handful of gins and about ten distinct rums, none of them quite like the others.
In fact, he says, “My rums are very different than what is on the market.” Seven Cave's rums are all barrel aged, none are spiced. They’re made less to match anyone’s expectation of rum, and more to pursue what rum could taste like, outside of the world of mass production.
“I’m not going to compete against Bacardi and Diplomático [rum brands], and their million dollar ad budgets,” Longenecker concedes, “But I can compete on flavor. And I try.”